As part of one of my courses I have an assessed project where students produce a game to be played in English and that requires spoken communication. However, you can’t really produce a game if you haven’t played many. So, in addition to Saboteur and Deep Sea Adventure earlier in the course, students played Oddville and an adapted form of Diceplomacy (itself an adaptation of Diplomacy).
Oddville was pretty tough in places because it is pretty tough for some first language speakers of English to understand the rules due to about five different game mechanics joined together. However, my students basically got it.
It’s a resource management game, a strategy game and a bit of a bluffing game at times, rolled into one. You build a town, but you need to gather materials and then choose your building and assemble your workers to be there and you also need money. I said it was tough at times and it is because there’s so much to keep in memory. It was pretty communicative because of this. Basically every turn, students needed to check whether they were playing by the rules or not. Mostly everything was fine but the odd few turns with a bit of unorthodox building attempts needed to be kept in check. Still, it was generally simpler than Saboteur.
Diceplomacy was a good bit easier. We played using three teams, who had to declare alliances, war or neutrality. The first team to three wins won in our game and all strategy had to be talked through in English. In addition, if you won a round you could increase your dice value from a six-sided dice (1-6) to a ten-sided dice (0-9), but if you lost a round you decreased your dice to a four sided (1-4) dice. This also kept the game a lot more interesting.
Next up, my students are finalising designs and prototyping games so I should be able to see how they have evaluated the games soon.
I’ve been using Saboteur with an adapted Kotoba Rollers framework by James York with my university classes. I want talking with authentic tasks, which games provide. There is also transcription of language used. It isn’t all fun and games though.
In the game, players are either good, hardworking miners or saboteurs. None of the players know the roles of the others but they hardworking miners need to work together to get the gold. The saboteurs need to ensure the pack of cards is exhausted before the treasure cards are reached. There are also action cards such as breaking tools, fixing tools, causing rock falls and checking maps for gold, which may lead to cooperation or subterfuge.
The published rules are a bit tricky to understand. I had set the reading for homework, figuring that if there were a lot of difficulties the students would use dictionaries or Google Translate. This means my students skim read them superficially and did not bother to understand the rules fully before game play. Dictionaries and Google barely got looked at.
However, the rules needed a bit of clarification. This led to some good negotiation of meaning (Long, 1983). There are cards used to destroy the mine path above or break other players’ tools but they weren’t always easily understood.
The transcription is the main part I changed. I ask students to write three parts.
What did your partner say? Did they say it differently to how you would say it? How would you say it?
This has been done pretty well and is usually the best part of my RPG-based classes’ sheets, too.
What communication problems did you have? Why?
This sometimes ends up being a wishy-washy “I need to speak more fluently” but a lot of my students have gone a bit deeper.
If you spoke Japanese, what did you say? How can you say it in English?
This has an obvious function but students do sometimes half-arse it and just use Google Translate one way without checking the translation in a (monolingual) dictionary or Skell.
Still the work got done and there was another game of Saboteur in the following lesson to review. I was satisfied with this little Kotoba Rollers cycle, and so were my students, though I needed to buy 4 lots of the game for my big class.
Long, M. (1983) Native speaker/non-native speaker conversation and the negotiation of comprehensible input1. Applied Linguistics, 4 (2) pp. 126–141.
Back to the Campaign
I’m not satisfied with the RPG courses at the moment but I can see what it is that I want. I want to be able to just put everything in place like I have five years experience of RPGs rather than feeling my way blind.
So what would I do with all my unearned experience? Well, I think I would like to delegate some of the Dungeon Master responsibilities to the students. Learner Autonomy is a good thing. The only problem is only about a handful are capable of putting together a scenario and scoring. Because Japan is a groupist culture, this means I would run the risk of putting noses out of joint.
Another thing that I hadn’t thought through properly is item functions. The class at UOT has won some items but LCST has had no items in the game, yet. I was considering using these items to fiddle the game and let conscientious learners get high scores but in all honesty all the students are conscientious enough to keep me happy. Still, a few things could make it more interesting.
So what I am going to do is add items in the next few stages and have clear benefits to them.
I will ask of anyone wants Dungeon Master homework. I might even make a tutorial video about using Google Slides, too.
Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
With last week’s descent into the ‘dungeon’ being somewhat gung-ho, this week was a wake-up call. The group at University Outside Tokyo (UOT) changed. Our one woman was absent along with two other male players. Perhaps this is what led to one player stepping over the line or testing the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in the classroom.
Our game at UOT is based on interacting with a non-player character (NPC) who is a foreign exchange student. This week we took him sightseeing (with our female player absent only our male NPC was in play). Unfortunately three of the players decided that a good place would be a massage parlour.
There was part of me that was close to ranting and raving. However, I didn’t. Instead, I appealed to the group’s lack of impropriety and asked if this was acceptable to them. It wasn’t. We finished the game, and after the transcription stage I called bullshit. I pulled rank as both ‘Dungeon Master’ and classroom teacher. Yes, I played my ‘Don’t be a dick!’ and ‘I grade your work’ cards. Do I feel slightly uncomfortable setting boundaries with adults? Yes, actually. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely.
There is a public transport-themed game stage next lesson with this group. I don’t think this will provide opportunities for lewd outbursts.
Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1,
Read the future chapters 3, 4, 5, 6